It's in the cards: Las Vegas hikers find a challenge on the rock - FOX5 Vegas - KVVU

It's in the cards: Las Vegas hikers find a challenge on the rocks

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Cards are collected after reaching each of the 52 peaks Cards are collected after reaching each of the 52 peaks
Hiker Rick Brown lost 170 lbs after he started hiking Hiker Rick Brown lost 170 lbs after he started hiking
LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -

It is a club like no other... one in which an uphill battle is all part of the game.

The idea is to climb 52 peaks in southern Nevada. For each peak the members conquer, they receive a playing card and, believe it or not, it has changed lives.

Under the glow of the midday sun it is the beginning of a quest for the next challenge. Leaping and maneuvering around the jagged crevices and formations of red sandstone is a feat in and of itself.

On a February afternoon at the Calico Tanks in Red Rock Canyon, we found four individuals – friends with no relation. It is only the love of hiking that brings them together.

For experienced hiker Branch Whitney, it is a thrill, and a dream come true.

"There's something magical about being on a peak with friends who've helped you out," said Whitney.

Branch created the "52 Peak Club" one year ago. It is a play off the greatest economic resource in Las Vegas (gambling), and the natural beauty and wonder that surrounds it.

"What I've done is pick the best 52 peaks around Las Vegas… Each peak is a different card."

The goal, obviously, is to get all 52. More than a hundred hikers are trying, but only one has collected them all.

"You can show somebody and say, look what I did... Then you want two and you want three," said Las Vegas resident Rick Brown.

Rick upped the ante by climbing every one of the 52 peaks in just nine months. Branch estimates it will take most hikers a year or more to do the same.

"People have gotten off work to do the hikes, they postpone vacations... this is a major goal," Whitney said.

The "2" cards are easy, while the "aces" are the hand to beat. And if the climbing isn't good enough, just ask Rick what else he's accomplished.

"I lost about 170 pounds total," said Brown, who used to weigh 340 pounds before he started hiking several times a week.

"It's a full body workout," he said. "You can't get that in a class. You can't get that anywhere. This is the natural form of what lost people weight for thousands of years."

You'd figure getting to 52 peaks is not just a big climb, but it's also a long journey. It's about 300 miles - roughly the distance between Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

"You're so used to sitting in your car and driving that distance," said Rita Wagner, who at age 73 is more fit than many young people.

She started hiking when her husband passed away, and has already collected 40 cards.

At first, she was terrified to climb.

"Now, I'm not scared of anything," she said. "People just think because you get older, you shouldn't do those things, but it has kept me in shape."

And she has been an inspiration for others to go all-in.

"There is nothing like it," said hiker Linda Blaney. "You're out here with nature. There's so many things you can see out here."

So many things to see… and do.

"I was a 340 pound person… who wouldn't get out of [his] chair, and now look at me," Brown said. "Anybody can do this."

It is a major challenge during challenging times.

"And that's really what the country needs… people who are in shape and can set a goal and accomplish it," Whitney said.

Branch pointed out there are more than 52 peaks in southern Nevada, but he hand-picked the ones for the club. The hikers go to Red Rock, Mount Charleston, and Lake Mead.

It costs $10 to join, which pays for a customized website to track your progress. By the way, you can't cheat. In order to claim a card, one must make the climb with a club guide.

For more information, including information on how to join, visit hikinglasvegas.com.

Copyright 2012 KVVU (KVVU Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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